While the Nintendo kids will no doubt look forward to annualised Zelda games well into their middle age, for the PC faithful a new appearance from an old friend more often than not heralds dark tidings. Oh sure I remember a time when I was naive and optimistic, a time when I couldn’t wait for another Monkey Island game. Then I played Curse and well, I know it wasn’t that bad but it never captured the old magic, and let’s not talk about Escape.
So there’s me blissfully ignoring the new Tales of Monkey Island and what does Telltale decide to do? Give away the first episode for free to celebrate Talk-Like-A-Pirate-Day.
Well hell I had no excuse, I had to at least try it.
I installed it around midnight. Perhaps not the best time to start a high seas adventure. I admit I was in a foul mood, just waiting for it to disappoint me. To the games discredit it didn’t take long. The controls are barely a step up from the GrimE engine. Oh I’m sure there’s a terribly clever argument as to why you can’t do regular point and click in a 3D engine but, screw that, why the hell can’t you do regular point and click in a 3D engine? God they did it with their new Samn and Max games. All these weird control schemes adventure games have tried for the last decade suck.
Worse I don’t really like the art style Telltale have gone with, it feels too bright and cartoony. I realise this has been par for the course since Curse but part of the old Monkey Island’s charm was its almost painterly backdrops and gloomy debauched grisliness.
At about 2 AM I crashed feeling a little disappointed. Then the next morning I woke up in a brighter mood.
It’s the puzzles that did it. I couldn’t really get into the writing or the humour but once I started solving problems the game began to click. I remembered that this is what I played adventure games for, I have fond memories of the stories and characters but it’s the satisfaction of solving puzzles that drove me forward. Telltale are to be congratulated on their efforts. Each challenge provides the right amount of resistance, the solution is never right in front of you but it’s always there, easy to grasp if you just pause and think. Sure occasionally in retrospect the solutions sound a little bizarre, but crucially they make sense at the time. An elaborate and ludicrous solution somehow bubbles up through a series of simple and logical actions and suddenly blam you’ve got it. You’d never have thought of it ten minutes ago but now it’s staring you right in the face. And it’s so simple, always so simple.
Perhaps most surprisingly this is where the game scores some laughs. The goofy dialogue doesn’t cut it for me but there’s real joy to be had watching your slapstick plans pay off. It’s funny in a way only an interactive experience can be. It’s like knocking over dominoes, there’s nothing really humorous about watching them tumble but I’d be damned if a big arse smile doesn’t cross my face whenever I think about doing it.
In one respect Telltale’s Monkey Island is perhaps better than the original. I only got frustratingly stuck once in the entire episode, that red herring crank was a devious move Telltale. I honestly prefer this to the original’s tendency to throw up brutal mental roadblocks every so often. Is it easier than the original? Yes it is because it needs to be. The moment trying every object with every other object becomes more useful then actually thinking this kind of game falls apart. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal never falls apart it just pulses along.
It doesn’t have the charm or the wit of the original but the puzzles are rock solid and after an end of episode cliff-hanger the plot even looks intriguing. Colour me surprised but damned if I’m not looking forward to playing the rest of Telltale’s Tales.